How much of the $150,000 - $200,000 that MBA students in top programs spend on business school is for the value of having a great network?
A third? Half?
While we may not be able to pinpoint a dollar-value for the business school network, we can probably agree that it is a significant part of the value of attending an MBA program.
That’s why when I started my project to get the equivalent of an MBA using free massive open online courses (MOOCs), I knew that I would need to be deliberate about building a great network to match the top-tier education that had suddenly become available for free.
Here’s how I did it - and how you can build a network to rival any business school grad’s.
Choose what you want to be known for
You don’t have to be the first, the only, or even the best at what you’re passionate about in order to engage in the conversation; I’m certainly not the first person to suggest that it’s possible to get a business education outside of a university. I’m not even the first person to think of getting an MBA equivalent using MOOCs.You do, however, have to put yourself out into the world, even if you don’t feel totally ready. When I began blogging about using MOOCs to get a business education, I didn’t yet have any credibility in the business world. Over time, I’ve managed to turn my website into an excellent lead-generator for connecting with fellow students, advisors, and potential employers. Now it’s just as likely that I’ll be contacted by a fellow ed tech entrepreneur as the other way around. But it didn’t start out that way.
To start growing your network, begin by identifying what you want to be known for. Then work on bringing your public persona in line with your aspirations. This sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.
Comment on blog posts, share articles on social media, tweet about what’s happening in your field, guest post on a blog. Create your own blog or website, or just rock your social media profiles. If you don’t feel totally confident at first, that’s okay. Confidence comes later. Just get started.
Approach networking as relationship building, not trophy hunting
I’ve gotten some amazing publicity, and I’ve been fortunate to get to talk to some of the luminaries of education, people like edX CEO Anant Agarwal. But networking is not trophy hunting.
What has made my network great is engaging with people again and again, finding out where my contacts’ goals align with mine, and being genuine and helpful. That approach has paid off a thousand fold.
A write-up is nice, but the chance to build a new relationship with someone who shares my passion for tech-enabled business education is better.
Your network should include a mix of peers, mentors, and people who can connect you to opportunities. The thing is, you don’t always know which are which. Don’t neglect building relationships with your peers just because they might not be able to help you today. Opportunities can arise from many places. By the same token, don’t be afraid to circle back to big shots you’ve been fortunate enough to make contact with.
Be a human online
The internet can feel impersonal, but I’ve learned that you can change your experience of the internet by treating all interactions as human ones. It’s incredible how far you can get with people when you approach them as human beings, even if you’re writing through a contact form.
My network includes many people I have never met face to face who are nonetheless trusted advisors, collaborators, and friends.
For starters, your LinkedIn profile should include a personal description that doesn’t make you sound like a resume-writing robot.
Next, when someone’s work inspires you, don’t be afraid to reach out to let them know. This goes especially for people who are building something from scratch. My experience is that these are the people who are most receptive to engaging with those who care about the work they’re doing. I’ve managed to make personal connections with many entrepreneurs, writers, and professors whose work I admire, simply by reaching out online in a way that is respectful, appreciative, and human.
Don’t be afraid to be one of the first people dancing
Derek Sivers gives a great TED Talk in which he breaks down how social movements start, using a fantastic video that begins with one guy dancing at a concert. The first person to start dancing seems crazy, the next few to join in risk looking foolish alongside him, but then suddenly everyone joins in. New projects have a similar trajectory.
Being one of the first people dancing - while you’re still visible and exposed - can be scary, but it can also lead to great rewards. No one is building a future on dancing at a concert, so the metaphor breaks down there, but many of the most exciting new companies are built on communities and social movements. Being one of the early joiners can pay off in a big way.
In my case, I am that person dancing alone in a field. Or at least I was. Some people have started dancing with me, but we’re still a small enough group to be able to know one another personally. If you find a movement you can get excited about, don’t be afraid to join in at an early stage.
If you’re inspired by No-Pay MBA’s project of re-imaging business education, taking the content and the people and the resources that are out there and putting them back together as a new breed of business education, then I invite you to join in.
In the spirit of this entire project, I am excited to share my network with you and to build it further with your help. I am looking for those peers, mentors, and providers of opportunity who share my enthusiasm and a desire shape the future of business education.
Will you be one of them?